Dubai: After seeing people who they know test positive for COVID-19, who shied away from the world because of the “stigma” of coronavirus, two teen friends in Dubai have launched a free website to anonymously alert contacts of positive cases to get themselves tested.
“We thought to ourselves, if we ever tested positive, we wouldn’t want to tell others because of the stigma surrounding testing positive. People might think you’ve put their lives in danger. This stigma is real and in some places people don’t tell others they’ve tested positive and, instead of quarantining, they go outside and they spread it even more,” said Deepak Tahiliani, 18, who is head of outreach at the anonymous service, called Wasama.co.
How does it work?
Wasama, which means “stigmatise” in Arabic, allows positive cases to list the name, email or mobile number of people they have recently met, after they upload a copy or screenshot of their positive test report, which is reviewed by Tahiliani and Quddus S Pativada, head of development and design at Wasama. The two friends created the initiative together. Wasama then sends out an email or SMS to the listed people saying one of their recent contacts has tested positive and that contact would like them to get themselves tested.
So far, since Wasama launched last month, “around eight to 10” people have used it to anonymously reach out to their contacts. Each user has listed five to six contacts on average. Some 600 other people have visited the website – essentially a short form that can be completed in a few clicks – and spread awareness about the initiative on social media. Wasama also has an Instagram page, @wasamaco, on which they have had around 200 shares of their posts.
How people have reacted
“We’ve had loads of people reach out to us and say they love our idea. We did get some people saying, ‘schools already do this’ or ‘wouldn’t people mind that their contact info has been given out’, but the fact is that it’s the need of hour. If we can protect people from going out and getting coronavirus, it outweighs those issues. It’s a social message to keep them safe and keep their families and friends safe. Overall, we’ve had good feedback from the community,” said Tahiliani, an Indian student who is in Year 13 at Jumeirah College, Dubai.
Quddus, who is also from India and in Year 13, at Repton School, Dubai, said the duo got the service up and running in just two weeks. “It’s a public service, we wanted to make a change in the world. When we first thought of it, we started discussing it with people and we realised that people actually thought it was a good idea, that they would use this service if it ever came to that. So we went ahead, we built a prototype of the website and soon it was live.”
An Arabic option is planned for the English website, which aims to be “a more global website for an even wider impact”, Quddus added.
Tech as a bridge
“As youth entrepreneurs, we felt a responsibility to help our friends who were struggling but I also believe that we aren’t aiming to just ‘fight’ the stigma around COVID-19 patients. We’re merely trying to play a small, but important role in tackling the issue of social anxiety that is so prevalent within the youth, especially in the UAE.
“Wasama doesn’t just aim to provide a platform to anonymously inform those who might be infected, it also aims to inspire youth in the UAE to realise that technology is the bridge between the issues we, as youth, face, leading to the rise of more technologically-powered initiatives to tackle problems on a macro scale,” Quddus said.